Stampeders continue run against struggling Tiger-Cats
Calgary, AB (Sports Network) - One of three remaining unbeaten squads left in the CFL, the Calgary Stampeders will attempt to keep their momentum rolling at home on Friday night when they take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium.
Hamilton has not gotten its season off on the right foot, losing its first two games out of the gate, a year removed from a run to the Grey Cup championship game in 2013. The Tiger-Cats opened the campaign at Saskatchewan in a rematch of last fall's title bout, falling 31-10, and followed that up with a 28-24 setback at Edmonton on July 4, losing grasp of a fourth-quarter lead with under two minutes to play. They were idle last week hoping to recharge their batteries for a turnaround.
As for Calgary, it has shined in very limited action in 2014 with a pair of convincing victories in its first two bouts, joining Edmonton and Winnipeg (both 3-0) as the only teams remaining without a loss. The Stampeders opened up at home on June 28 with a 29-8 triumph over Montreal, then following a bye week, they toppled Toronto on the road on July 12, 34-15.
The Stamps have had Hamilton's number of late. They won both meetings last season and have claimed nine in a row over the Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium.
Much of Hamilton's struggles this season has been due to its lack of continuity under center. After Henry Burris signed a contract with the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks in the offseason, Zach Collaros was named the starter during the preseason, but he's been largely unproductive (.561 completion percentage, 212 yards, TD, two INTs). Collaros left the Edmonton loss following a blow to the head, and he has been ruled out for Friday's matchup.
In Collaros' absence two weeks ago, neither Jeremiah Masoli (5-for-15, 118 yards, TD, INT) nor Dan LeFevour (8-of-11, 70 yards, TD) did much to separate themselves as the clear successor. Although Masoli has been announced as the starter for this week, expect both to see action. The team also secured more quarterback depth by signing Jacory Harris.
The carousel of quarterbacks has hindered the production of the wide receivers. No Hamilton player has more than 100 yards receiving through two games, with Cary Koch (four receptions, 92 yards) and Luke Tasker (seven receptions, 91 yards) coming the closest. Andy Fantuz, who caught 65 passes for 896 yards and three touchdowns for the Ticats a season ago, has missed the first two games with a concussion, but is eyeing his return.
Running back C.J. Gable was a non-factor in the season opener, rushing for just eight yards on three carries, but he was outstanding versus Edmonton, turning six carries into 43 yards and a touchdown, while adding six receptions for 53 yards and another score. Gable racked up 1,380 total yards and 12 majors a year ago, and the offense is clearly at its best when he is involved.
Defensively, Hamilton has struggled stopping opposing teams but still has a handful of strong playmakers to rely on. Simoni Lawrence ranks fourth in the league in tackles with 16 despite playing in one fewer game than the leaders. Michael Coe made his team debut in the loss to Edmonton, making his presence felt all over the field with 12 tackles. Rico Murray is one of four CFL players with two interceptions.
Calgary's success this season can be largely attributed to the play of Bo Levi Mitchell at quarterback. After tossing 267 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in last week's win, the 24-year-old signal caller now has 580 yards (on 65.8 percent completions) with six touchdowns paired with zero interceptions, and his 146.6 QB rating is the tops in the league. Mitchell is now 5-0 to start his CFL career, two wins shy of matching Jeff Garcia's record of seven in a row also set with Calgary back in 1995.
Mitchell does an outstanding job distributing the ball to multiple receivers. Anthony Parker (five receptions, 117 yards, two TDs), Jeff Fuller (eight receptions, 114 yards, two TDs) and Marquay McDaniel (five receptions, 80 yards, TD) are all sure handed options, with each catching a touchdown pass in the win over Toronto last week. Maurice Price's lone catch this season went for a 102-yard major in the opener, but he is sidelined for the next several weeks with a broken hand.
Star running back Jon Cornish was forced to miss last week's game with a concussion, but he has returned to practice and hopes to be ready for Friday's bout. Cornish was named the league's Most Outstanding Player in 2013 after piling up 1,813 rushing yards, 344 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns, and he picked up where he left off prior to his injury in the opener with 108 total yards and a score. If he's unable to go, Matt Walter (17 carries, 78 yards) will assume the role of feature back once again.
The Stamps' defense has been equally as good as their offense in the early going, having given up a league-low 23 points (11.5 ppg), with their only touchdown allowed coming in garbage time of their blowout victory in Week 1. Lin-J Shell, Brandon Smith and Buddy Jackson are all tied for the team lead with nine tackles, while Charleston Hughes and Juwan Simpson have two sacks apiece.
07/16 11:29:37 ET